The Second Edition, available only as an e-book, is based on reader feedback on the First Edition, and following additional research. For readers who purchased the original hard copy edition published by Trafford, I have provided the following UPDATES:
Page 4: In the fight against armour, the British supplied the French Infantry with the .55-inch Boys anti-tank rifle, and in exchange the French supplied the Tommies with 25mm Hotchkiss anti-tank guns, as well as details of the Brandt sub-calibre anti-tank shot, which the British would develop into the famous APDS (Armour-Piercing Discarding Sabot) round.
French anti-aircraft defence would be bolstered by the powerful Vickers 3.7-inch (94mm) anti-aircraft gun, and the first British ground-to-air radar sets – in fixed and mobile versions – had been ordered by the French.
There was even a planned joint British/French postage stamp, finalized in May 1940 for issue in both countries the following September.
The British version of the joint stamp issue. The French version would go on sale for 2 Francs 50.
Page 14 & subsequent: “Kriegsmarine”
Page 24: A second condition imposed by Roosevelt is that Darlan must give thought to the decolonization of most of the French Empire…..
Page 34: “On land, on 9th December 1940, the British Army of Egypt under Major-General R.N. O’Connor, launches a counter-attack.”
Page 45: Planners at the OKW, the German Armed Forces High Command, had worked on multiple variants of the invasion plans for months. ‘Barbarossa’ was the codename given by Hitler to the final version, put together by Brauchitsch and Halder. As the Fuehrer announced on 31st July 1940, the invasion would commence in March 1941 and last for five months, culminating in the capture of Moscow and seizure of the Baku oilfields.
Despite being warned by the ‘Lucy Ring’ of spies inside the German High Command, the Soviets are taken completely by surprise when the storm breaks on their front lines at dawn on March 31st, 1941.
Page 58: Porcupine with an Achilles Heel
Increasing Allied air cover and offensive air patrols are also causing heavy U-Boat casualties. Among the units involved is Escadrille 9E of the French Aéronavale. Back in 1940 they had been operating a number of large Breguet Bizerte biplane seaplanes for long-range maritime patrol duties over the Mediterranean. With that sea becoming virtually an enclosed lake for the Allied powers, in 1941 the Escadrille has been transferred to Britain to help in the fight against the German U-Boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. Based at Pembroke Dock in South Wales, they commence long-range patrols over the Western Approaches.
But it soon becomes evident that their old Bizerte aircraft are unsuited for modern warfare, and in addition their operational use is severely limited due to a general lack of spare parts. Along with several other French anti-submarine units, the Escadrille is therefore reformed on new Short Sunderland seaplanes, and begins to make a significant contribution to winning the struggle against the U-Boats.
Lieutenant Pignolet has left these dramatic memories of his service in Escadrille 9E:
“Faced by our determined offensive, the U-Boats began to fight back. They carried an anti-aircraft armament of a single 2cm automatic cannon, and some boats began to be armed with two of these potent weapons.
Once we were committed to an attack, to fire back we had only a single .303 calibre machine gun in the nose turret of our Sunderland. The British seemed fascinated by the .303 machine gun. An RAF friend told me it was because they had hundreds of thousands of .303 rounds left over from the Great War, so they had kept to that rifle calibre for their aircraft armament, when everyone else was fitting 20mm cannon or at least a 12.7mm heavy machine gun. The worst problem with our .303 was of course that it was completely outranged by the heavier cannon on the U-Boat.
After several of our aircraft had been badly shot up by the U-Boats’ defensive fire – one plane carrying several wounded crew members barely making it back to Pembroke Dock, where it crashed on landing – we decided we needed heavier firepower to knock out their AA gunners.
Our armourers set to work with a will. The RAF ground personnel were confined by crushing rules and regulations, but we French crews – like our Australian counterparts also based at Pembroke – always had a certain amount of independence and therefore leeway to “do our own thing”.
The squadron commander came across an old RAF C.O.W. gun in 37mm calibre. I was intrigued by the name of the weapon, and wondered if here in darkest Wales the cows were so large and fierce that one needed something much bigger even than an “Elephant Gun”. To my disappointment the commander informed me that the designation stood for the “Coventry Ordnance Works”. Surprisingly enough the gun had been designed at the end of the Great War for fitting in the nose of flying boats for anti-shipping use, but had for some unexplained reason fallen from favour. This particular example had finished up on a land mounting for airfield defence. Secreted away in the middle of a dark night, it finished up protruding from the front of his Sunderland’s nose turret. Because of the much heavier recoil, his armourer was obliged to fix the turret in the fore and aft position, but the gun was still capable of being elevated and depressed. Also, because the much heavier gun mounted in the nose threatened to upset the aircraft’s stability, the commander had to fly with the nose turret in the retracted position, as used when mooring the Sunderland. Despite continuing jibes about the name of the gun, we were all extremely jealous of this impressive weapon. I scouted around, determined to boost our own offensive power at all costs.
Eventually, as the result of dining on board a small French destroyer also based in Pembroke Dock, I managed to obtain a couple of French 13.2mm Hotchkiss machine guns, which were being replaced by a pair of 20mm Oerlikon cannons. Her captain had originally intended to keep the Hotchkisses as well, until the local Dockyard Superintendant ruefully pointed out the minimal margin of stability already possessed by his tiny vessel. The Hotchkisses were mounted in the nose of my old faithful “F”, and quickly proved their worth when we strafed and then sank a Type VII U-Boat off the west coast of Ireland just a week later.
Apart from their initial weak forward-facing armament, the Sunderland had one other very nasty drawback.
It seemed that pre-war doctrines had favoured RAF Bomber and Fighter Commands, leaving the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command with aircraft of reduced performance and offensive capabilities. Introduction of the Sunderland to Coastal Command had gone some way to remedying the situation, but they had their own Achilles Heel, which I discovered in a dramatic way during one long-range patrol.
We had been sent out to patrol the Bay of Biscay, primarily I supposed because that would enable us to think that we were flying over home territory, or at least our own part of the ocean. As well as scouring the horizon for surfaced U-Boats heading out into the Atlantic or returning to their French bases, one always had to keep a wary eye out for Luftwaffe Ju-88 fighters, which were sent out to try to counter our sweeps. If we spotted a gaggle of these large and extremely dangerous opponents, our first move was to drop down to sea level and then try to run for it at maximum speed. This gave them two problems: they could not attack our vulnerable and defenceless bottom hull, and diving to attack a rapid, desperately turning target at sea level was extremely difficult and hazardous for them. One mistake and they could find themselves in the sea. And of course we would be blazing back at them with our tail and dorsal machine guns.
I was droning onwards, trying not to think of Ju-88s, when suddenly a yell from my flight engineer warned me that our port outer motor was starting to run hot. Quickly I reduced the revolutions on that motor, winding on the rudder trim tab to compensate for the lack of power to port, but to no avail. Just before the motor could burst into flames, I shut it down and began the procedure to feather the dead prop. Unfortunately these old Pegasus motors carried a very limited amount of oil for feathering the prop, and this was quickly used up to no effect. The propeller of the dead motor continued to revolve in the slipstream, dragging the motor around with it, and causing an ominous vibration which shook the whole airframe. I was winding on even more tab trim when suddenly the whole port outer motor was wrenched off its mounting and fell away into the sea, luckily without causing any more damage. I was obliged to jettison our load of depth-charges, but even so, our slow return home on the three remaining motors, the throttles pushed to the limit, was extremely long and nerve-wracking.
Talking through the incident with our British Maintenance Officer, I was stunned to discover that, in fact, the Bristol Pegasus motors fitted in many Sunderlands were not new, but second-hand. They had already been used on Bomber Command aircraft flying raids over Germany, and when they reached their maximum flying hours each motor was returned to Bristol for overhaul. That is not to say that they were intrinsically dangerous, but it had to be borne in mind that after such arduous service one risked the onset of metal fatigue in these lightweight, highly stressed units. The fact that we were supposed to rely on these second-hand motors for extended flights over water left me with a distinct feeling of unease.
Because the motors were not exactly the latest offerings from the Bristol Company, the propeller feathering mechanism was also not up to modern standards, hence our episode of losing a motor. I found out later that other crews had not been so lucky. In several incidents a propeller had in fact become detached from the motor, and gone whizzing off on its own, risking serious if not fatal damage to the aircraft and its crew.
All in all, we were very grateful to convert to brand-new Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses for anti-submarine patrol. Based on our earlier experiences, we immediately arranged for a couple of spare .50 calibre Brownings to be fitted in the nose of each B-17. Even though they were the early “C”’ Model with no tail turret, they were superbly built aircraft with a wide margin of safety. Several of my companions regretted the passing of our flying boats, with their chance for “ditching” in the sea if all means of staying airborne had failed, but I for one preferred to think of keeping my plane in the air, thank you very much. I had never felt happy with the theoretical advantage of having to alight in a heavy Atlantic swell. Fortunately I never had to take the risk.. ”
Page 71 & subsequent: “Heydrich”
Russian stamp issued in 1937 showing the proposed Palace of the Soviets, topped by a 6,000 ton statue of Lenin.
Page 79 & subsequent: “Leni Riefenstahl”.
Page 86 & subsequent: For “Suharto” substitute “Sukarno”.
Page 106: “Moist-eyed girls and kimonoed ladies will wait..”
Page 113: The final Japanese loss is the damaged Kongo. Disabled far behind the main fleet action, her crew are left undisturbed and succeed in getting her under way again. In the early hours of the morning she is limping homewards at 16 knots, when she is struck by two torpedoes fired from a Dutch submarine, the K XIV. Kongo’s commander Rear Admiral Shimazaki Toshio keeps her under way to escape further submarine attack, but one by one her bulkheads give way under the pressure of inrushing water. Inexorably she floods, listing more and more to port. Her exhausted damage control officer commits suicide, despairing of saving his ship. The news of this personal tragedy convinces Kongo’s CO to stop the vessel and give the order to abandon ship. But suddenly, when her list reaches 60 degrees, the forward 14-inch magazines erupt in a series of giant explosions, and Kongo plunges to the bottom with heavy loss of life.
Page 118: Isoroku Yamamoto
In the meantime Admiral Yamamoto, head of the Imperial Japanese Navy, meets his death. An American Carrier Task Group, centred around the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, are sent to raid the Japanese navy’s huge base at Truk. Devoid of heavy units, it is being used as a base for Japanese cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Over sixty vessels are reported in the lagoon by Catalina reconnaissance aircraft.
The strike force cause heavy losses to the assembled Japanese ships, and during the raid a squadron of escorting Wildcat fighters spots a pair of Mitsubishi Betty bombers vectored inbound to the airfield on Weno, home of the IJN Headquarters. The fighters pounce on the bombers, tangling with the six Zeros of their escort. In the ensuing combat one Betty ditches in the lagoon and three survivors make it to shore, including the IJN Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki.
The pilot of the second Betty, Warrant Officer Takeo Koyani, dives to low level in an attempt to reach the airfield, but a pair of Wildcats get on his tail and riddle the bomber with bullets. With one engine ablaze the Betty crash-lands in the jungle short of the airstrip. Unbeknown to the Americans, the passengers in the second bomber were Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, Rear Admiral Tanaka, Chief Surgeon, and two aides. Everyone on the Betty is either killed by bullets or dies in the subsequent crash. Admiral Yamamoto has been thrown from the wreck and his body is discovered strapped to his seat, his hand clutching his sword. He is cremated, and the surviving battlecruiser Haruna is despatched to bring the urn containing his ashes back to Japan.
Today the Chuuk Islands (which is the correct pronounciation of “Truk”) are popular with tourists eager to dive on the wrecks of ships and aircraft in the lagoon. The remains of Admiral Yamamoto’s Betty, tail number T1-323, can still be seen in the jungle, where it is a protected site. The wreck is a popular Japanese tourist stop where old Navy men silently pay their respects.
Page 129: Saint-Exupéry
Reconnaissance missions over the potential landing sites are carried out by the famous aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He fails to return from his last mission, and wreckage from his P-38 Lightning is not found until more than 60 years later. At the time the Germans claim that a pre-production Focke-Wulf 190 Dora has shot down St Ex’s Lightning. However, Horst Rippert, a Luftwaffe ace with 28 victories, has claimed that it was he flying a Bf 109 who had shot down the Lightning. Rippert stated sadly that, had he known it was the famous airman and author in the other plane, he would have not shot him down.
Page 141: The Vengeance
Further north, during the push towards the frontier of the Reich, an unlikely new Allied air component finally comes into its own: the dive-bomber. French dive bomber squadrons have been training in North Africa, formed around a core of Aéronavale veterans, survivors of May and June 1940 who had used Vought Vindicators (Escadrilles AB 1 and AB 3) and Loire-Nieuport LN401s (AB 2 and AB 4) in desperate dive bombing sorties against the German Panzer columns.
These new units have been converted onto the Vultee Vengeance, a dive-bomber first designed to a French contract of 1940 as the V-72, to try to emulate the success of the Luftwaffe’s Stukas.
During the Battle of Britain, many unescorted Stuka squadrons had suffered crippling losses, leading to their rapid withdrawal from the Battle. The British came up with the doctrine that dive bombers could not survive unless they enjoyed air superiority, or at least effective fighter escort. The US Army Air Force, wedded to level bombers, copied the British example. Only the US Navy and Marines, who at that time could not operate multi-engined bombers from their aircraft carriers, went their separate way.
The French dive-bomber squadrons were to prove the RAF’s theory wrong, as they would invariably operate without fighter escort, with exemplary success and minimal combat losses.
Their objectives in the industrialised areas of Lorraine, and in the heavily wooded terrain of the Vosges Mountains, called for precision bombing rather than carpet bombing, and here the Vengeances came into their own. In particular their severing of crucial river and canal bridges cut off thousands of retreating Germans and forced them to surrender.
Capitaine Roger de la Roche has left us vivid recollections of flying the Vengeance during this period. But his first meeting with dive bombers occurred several years earlier.
“At dawn on 10th May 1940, the very first day of the German Blitzkreig, all our Breguet 693 ground-attack aircraft were destroyed on the ground in a devastating German bombing raid. The squadron was wiped out without us even having had the chance to fire a shot in return. A flock of flightless birds, we set out in a column of trucks loaded with aircrew and mechanics, to try and reach one of our rear air bases, in the hope of re-equipping with new planes…
En route I was subjected to a salutary lesson in the exercise of air power. Arriving as part of a long straggling column at a bridge over the River Oise, our squadron trucks had just managed to all pass over to the far bank, when the cry went up of “Stuka!”. Almost immediately we were transfixed by the terrifying banshee wail of the enemy dive bombers. As if the howl of their motors was not enough, the Stuka squadrons had arranged for wind-driven sirens to be fixed to the undercarriage units of their Ju-87s, and the sound they made as they plunged vertically towards us is one which I personally will never forget.
We all abandoned our vehicles in indecent haste, and threw ourselves down in the roadside ditches, a pathetic attempt to hide from these devils diving straight down on us. But the explosions of their bombs seemed to come from some distance behind us, so I cautiously poked my head above the rim of the ditch. Just a couple of hundred metres behind my truck stood the bridge we had just crossed over. As I watched, a Stuka recovered from its dive and flew over our heads at a height of some 300 metres. I could clearly see his dive brakes he was just retracting…. Glancing back at the bridge I caught a split-second glimpse of his single large bomb as it plunged earthward. Then there was a hell of a bang, the centre span of the road bridge seemed to leap skywards, and fell back into the water. A direct hit in the middle of a very small target, especially when first seen from 2,000 metres altitude. I was impressed!
With their primary target obliterated, the remaining Stukas turned their attention to the column of vehicles. Their bombs fell directly in the midst of the gaggle of trucks, throwing vehicles high in the air, to land on their backs or in pieces. Others burst into flames as the Stukas, having expended their bombs, ranged up and down the road strafing us with their machine guns. Several brave souls managed to get some of our own Hotchkiss heavy machine guns into action, and their cones of tracers convinced the Germans that discretion would be the better part of valour.
When our tormentors had flown off, we crammed aboard our surviving trucks, and continued on our way, stopping and forced to make off-road detours around scores of burnt-out tanks, armoured cars and troop transports; more grim evidence of the dive-bombers’ trade. And so more by luck than judgement I finally found my way to North Africa. But that is another story…
So when I was asked to transfer to one of our new dive bomber squadrons in the process of forming up, I jumped at the chance to strike back in such an effective way…..
To my delight my aircraft was to carry the name of “Vengeance”, quite appropriate to my frame of mind. Built by Vultee to an original French order, she was a large, solid beast of a plane which filled me with confidence at first sight. She even had cranked wings like the Stuka and our old Loire-Nieuport! She was strongly built to stand up to the terrific stresses of dive-bombing, or rather the enormous forces exerted on the airframe in pulling out of a dive.
Even with the 1,600 horses of the Wright Cyclone engine, we could not expect any very startling performance in climb and level flight, but she dived like a brick! Before peeling off into our attack dives, we would extend the effective dive brakes, which opened out above and below the cranked wings. This stabilised our diving speed to (only!) some 500 kilometres an hour… Then we opened up the bomb bay doors, and looked for our targets.
Like the Stuka our bombs were thrown clear of the propeller arc on a pair of cradles, so like them we could dive at a 90° angle. One curious design feature of our mounts was the fact that the wings were fixed to the fuselage at zero incidence, which meant that they were parallel to the airflow in level flight, which in turn meant that we flew the beast in a nose-high attitude. Annoying for takeoff and landing when you needed maximum visibility, and disconcerting in cruise mode. But the zero incidence wing helped keep us in a dead straight dive onto our target, giving us pinpoint accuracy with no deviating from line. I heard rumours that the RAF and the American Army Air Force, both of which had officially abandoned the dive bomber, were pushing Vultee to build a version of the Vengeance with normal wing incidence, to make the plane fly straight and level. Taking away the dive-bombing feature seemed to us to be a bad trade-off, and we strongly pushed our commanding officers to make known our resistance to any such modifications.
Before we could gain any very great operational experience, we were startled one morning to be called into briefing, and be greeted with a serious problem. Apparently there had been several training incidents where a Vengeance had failed to pull out of a dive and had simply gone straight in.
All flying was cancelled until the cause of the accidents had been discovered. It was not long in coming. It seemed that trainee pilots had attempted dives with no-one in the rear cockpit. Normally the rear gunner would revolve his seat to face forward and lock it in position before we would commence our dive. Apparently if the plane was dived with the rear seat empty, the resulting imbalance would take the pilot by surprise, and make it extremely difficult to manually correct the change in the centre of gravity by adjusting the trim tabs, in time to pull out. From then on, we flew only with our gunners on board, or else on training missions with a well-secured sack of ballast occupying his chair.
A French Vultee Vengeance, its dive brakes already extended, peels off into a dive, showing its unusual cranked wing arrangement.
A simple remedy to an unforeseen hazard, but one which brought home to us the slim margin between success and catastrophic failure in our deadly trade. Dive bombing was a serious matter.
Many rookie pilots who were fresh from training units complained about the ponderous performance of the Vengeance. Accustomed to lightweight training planes, they had problems adjusting to what I often compared to a heavy horse, an Ardennais of my home region. One particular Aspirant, Jean-Claude, tired me out with his constant wingeing. So one morning I dragged him out of the Mess and installed him in the back seat of my own Vengeance, which I had emblazoned with the name of “Stanislas”, the good old King of Lorraine. Ignoring his complaints we took off and climbed to 3,000 metres altitude for a series of aerobatics. Hoping my young passenger had not consumed too big a breakfast, I casually called him on the intercom, and asked if his seat belt was attached, as I could see clouds up ahead and we could encounter some turbulence. I also told him to revolve the seat to face forward and fasten it in that position, so he could better enjoy the view…. On his confirmation that he was facing forward and strapped firmly in, I flipped her into a rapid barrel roll.
Ignoring his cries of surprise, I levelled out, then warned him that this time we were going to loop her. I pulled firmly back on the stick, and up and over we went, very gently. In fact I had entered the loop at quite a modest speed – not that any level speed in our Vengeances was other than sedate – so in fact we half-stalled, half rolled off the top of the loop.
As we dropped earthwards at a steep angle, Jean-Claude let me know in no uncertain terms what he thought of this clumsy manoeuvre. I made no comment, but pushed the throttle lever fully forward.
We plunged at an ever increasing rate of knots, when abruptly I pulled sharply back on the stick. She zoomed upwards, leaving our stomachs well behind, then threw herself up and over in a perfect loop, which finally, and reluctantly, brought grudging murmurs of approval from my back-seat driver.
Back in the Mess, Jean-Claude bought us two beers and we silently sipped them, a new understanding in his eyes. No need for comments.
The rapid barrel roll of the Vengeance was a desirable feature when peeling off into an attack dive. Looping her from level flight always took a little time and more than a little patience, but if we were still laden down with bombs – Forget it!
When we were fully worked up on our Vengeances, we sat impatiently in North Africa while our forces stormed ashore in Provence and began their long fight up the Rhône Valley; and we trained, and we trained…
Eventually the word came, and we flew all the way north into my homeland of Lorraine, where General Leclerc had called for us to spearhead his armoured columns. Just as the Nazi Stukas had helped their Panzers in the dark days of May and June 1940, each time our armour ran into a roadblock or hardened defence position, we would join in with the fighter bombers in wiping out these nests of resistance to allow the spearheads to continue their headlong progress.
One memorable action stands out in my memory: thousands of German troops were in headlong retreat to the west of Nancy. Their escape route back to Metz and Germany proper led them to the confluence of the Meurthe and the Moselle rivers, at Pompey, site of our famous special steels factory.
It was vital to deny them the river crossings, but all attempts by American fighter-bombers failed to cut the bridges, and it was becoming obvious that such attacks risked serious civilian casualties in the built-up areas around the factory. So our squadron was called on to cut the bridges, and off we went on what we were told was a vital humanitarian mission.
We approached the target area from the south, heading for the distinctive landmark of the hilltop fortress town of Liverdun. Then we turned to follow the river to the east, passing over a curious structure which resembled nothing other than a stranded ocean liner cast up on the north bank of the Moselle. When I heard the puzzled comments of our pilots over the radio, I chuckled out loud – in the 1930s I had been fascinated by the singular appearance of the Lerebourg jam factory, for that is what the “ocean liner” really was!
Arriving over Pompey, we picked out our allocated bridges and began our dives. Knowing the area from before the War, I had helped devise our attack plan so as to avoid the steel blast furnaces and factory chimneys which lined the rivers and the canal system.
Six dives, five pilots scored direct hits and one a near miss, no damage to our fast-departing Vultees, and no casualties to the Squadron. Afterwards we were delighted to hear that we were to be the principal guests at a “vin d’honneur” offered by the grateful Mayor of Pompey, to thank us for putting an effective end to the previous bombing which had wrecked countless homes and killed and injured so many of our fellow countrymen. I still recall the tears of joy running down his cheeks as he warmly embraced us one after another!
When our ground forces began to penetrate into the Vosges Mountains, we were on call round the clock, in what our RAF comrades called the Cab Rank – at least three aircraft stood at readiness with engines warmed and full bomb loads, their crews prepared to take off at a moment’s notice.
One memorable action involved a pinpoint attack on the old French fort of Parmont, high above the historic town of Remiremont with its ancient abbey. The Germans were using the vantage point of the fort as an artillery observation post, and it bristled with anti-aircraft guns. We dared not call on our American friends – they usually blasted everything in sight – because of the proximity of the town. So our Vengeance squadron flew the mission, with myself in the leading aircraft of six.
Timing our arrival over the target to coincide with the first rays of the morning sun, we hoped to take advantage of that period between deep sleep and first awakening, when Man is always at his most vulnerable.
Six aircraft, six screaming dives, and twelve 500 pound bombs smack on target before the startled Nazis could run to man their FlaK guns. It seemed to me the old fort literally leapt in the air under the impacts, and in a visit some days later to inspect our handiwork, we were suitably impressed by the results. The old powder magazines under metres of solid granite had escaped unscathed, but the upper surface of the fort was strewn with the debris of range finders and smashed artillery pieces. I had read the story of the Stuka commander who, visiting a French Maginot ouvrage after the Armistice, hoped to see mass destruction to justify the loss of the planes and aircrew expended on that particular target. When he was led underground on the electric railway, and passed from fighting block to fighting block, all totally unscathed, the poor German had broken down in tears.
Well, we had no such reactions, only a sense of pride in our achievements which had saved the fine old town of Remiremont and knocked out a serious obstacle to our armoured advance. The celebrations in the town centre went on until dawn, and we all staggered back to camp with stinging hangovers, to meet the disgusted stares of the ready aircrews who had missed out on the fun….. ”
Page 166: In Japan, President Roosevelt wisely dispatches General Douglas MacArthur to oversee the “democratization” of the country. The presence of allied occupation troops permits the Japanese to meet with these formerly hated “foreign devils”. To their great surprise, the Japanese discover that the “gaijin” are people just like themselves, and do not rape women or eat babies, as their wartime propaganda had claimed. In keeping with the terms of the Japanese surrender, MacArthur treats the Emperor and the Royal Family with dignity and respect, and gains the admiration of the ordinary Japanese. There is a period of tension when former Imperial officers are brought before military courts and indicted for war crimes, and several are executed or commit hara-kiri. Afterwards the country settles down to a long period of stability and reconstruction; denied any future military expansion the Japanese concentrate on industrial and technological expansion, first copying then improving on Western models. Their reputation for innovation will bring them dominance in certain market segments.
Page 167: France comes out of the Second World War much stronger, politically, economically, and morally, than in 1939. Most critically in the eyes of the Orientals, France may have lost one battle in May-June 1940, but has emerged victorious, and has thereby not lost face.
One overall factor is paramount: While Metropolitan France has been under the heel of the jackboot, when most Europeans thought the Nazis were going to win the war, the Vichy puppet rulers have distorted the traditional values of republican society, leading to collaboration and denunciation on a massive scale. It is only in the French colonial empire where the ideas of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” are able to survive and flourish. Thus are laid the seeds for a more closely-knit francophone community, which will find form in a meaningful post-war commonwealth of overseas departments and former colonies.
Compared with the ambiguous attitude of Darlan, who is suspected of playing for time with no real intention of following Roosevelt’s demand, De Gaulle supports the idea of a structured process of decolonization. In the course of his speech at Constantine in Algeria in May 1945 he announces an extensive programme of education and investment in the countries forming the Empire.
Page 168: And the Memorial Wall of Names near the Lincoln Memorial, in Constitution Gardens, Washington DC, commemorates those intrepid men and women who have given their lives in the exploration of Space, Mankind’s greatest challenge and the last great frontier.
The first three names engraved on the black marble of the Wall are:
Virgil I. ”Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee.
Page 190: Churchill had ordered the Royal Navy to bombard the Turkish forts guarding the Dardanelles, before Great Britain had even formally declared war against Turkey… This rash action served only to make the Turks aware of the serious lack of modern armaments in these forts, with the tragic result that, when the Allies came back to the Dardanelles in 1915, they came under fire from modern coast-defence artillery protected by extensive minefields.
Once again it had been Churchill who, through arrogance or simply negligence, had allowed the Imperial German Navy to score its first great U-Boat triumph. The small U-9 sank, one after the other, three elderly armoured cruisers, the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue. They had been sent by Churchill to patrol a very exposed area off the German coast, and without supporting destroyers they were extremely vulnerable to attack.
Admiral Somerville’s biography was actually written by Donald MacIntyre, and appeared in 1961 under the title Fighting Admiral. Somerville always regretted the action he was bullied into taking at Mers el-Kébir. Before the War he had contracted tuberculosis and was forced out of the Navy. In 1940 Churchill had been his sponsor, supporting Somerville’s return to active service.
Page 193: The early departure of Italy from the Second World War, at least as a belligerent, would have had a major impact on the Allies’ fortunes. In the years following the attack on Mers el-Kébir, in the Mediterranean alone, the Royal Navy was to lose one battleship, two aircraft carriers, one monitor, seventeen cruisers, three fast minelayers, sixty-four destroyers and a destroyer depot ship, and forty-five submarines (representing some sixty percent of all RN submarine losses in the Second World War). The casualties in terms of officers and men killed, injured and missing amounted to many thousands. In addition, dozens of major warships were seriously damaged and required lengthy repairs. With the Mediterranean secured as an Allied “lake”, the majority of these ships and, more importantly, their trained crews, would be saved to concentrate, firstly on the Battle of the Atlantic, and then on reinforcing the Far East to head off Japanese expansionist ambitions.
The French gold was hoarded at Kayes in French Equatorial Africa; Leclerc’s odyssey to capture Kufra took place exactly as described; the farcical loss of Catroux’s kepi in Damascus is on record; the French flotilla did destroy almost half of the Thai navy in the Battle of Koh Chang; and the small Vichy islands of St-Pierre and Miquelon were seized by a French flotilla including the giant submarine Surcouf. On the other hand, the date of “1940” on the specimen Vichy coin is three years too early for the coins actually put into circulation.
As a boy growing up in Post-World War Two Britain, the Author was regaled by tales of British heroism, along with the notion that no Messerschmitt Bf 109 could turn with a Spitfire or Hurricane in a dogfight. This was said to be a particular advantage for Hurricane pilots, whose aircraft were some 40 miles per hour slower than the German plane. Years later the truth behind the myth emerged. In his seminal book “Fighter”, Len Deighton revealed that the basic problem with the Bf 109 in tight turns was that the wing leading-edge slats, which operated automatically and were not controlled by the pilot, would open and close as each wing required additional lift. The banging open and closed of the slats was very disconcerting for an average pilot, and he would usually straighten out of his turn, and let a British fighter escape. However, the “experte”, who had probably begun his career in the Bf 109 in combat over Spain, knew exactly what was happening. The automatic slats were in fact helping him to tighten his turn to open fire on his opponent.
Hitler’s original plan for Barbarossa was to begin the attack on 1st March 1941, the first date that the necessary troop movements could be finalised. In the writer’s fictional version, diplomatic detractors on the OKW staff managed to persuade him to delay matters to avoid problems due to possible wet weather. The first several hundred kilometers of the invasion would take the Germans through the eastern part of former Poland, occupied by the Russian Army in 1939 when they had abandoned the Stalin Line and joined in the dismemberment of Poland. The OKW would have pointed out that they could use the former Polish road system for the first part of the advance, but they wanted to avoid the problems of Spring mud turning the Russian steppes into a morass.
Even with this slight delay, the Germans will gain the whole of April, May and the first three weeks of June, compared with the fatally delayed real start to Barbarossa.
The old Tsarist destroyer Kapitan Isylmetiev, renamed the Lenin, was scuttled to avoid capture by the advancing Wehrmacht, but at Libau in the Baltic, on 24th June 1941.
The problem of attacking surfaced U-Boats which would fight back with 20mm cannon and larger came to a head in 1943, when N° 10 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force decided to fight back, mounting four .303 Browning machine guns in the nose of their Sunderlands. Around the same time RAF Coastal Command experimented with mounting a 40mm Vickers ‘S’ Gun in the nose of a Mark IIA Flying Fortress. Interestingly, the Vickers ‘S’ had been developed from the old 37mm C.O.W. Gun. The final development would be the Mosquito ‘Tsetse’ version armed with the automatic Molins 6 pounder gun, highly effective against surfaced U-Boats.
Ironically, the original design for what would become the Sunderland was intended to mount a 37mm C.O.W. gun in the nose. When this offensive armament was turned down by the Air Ministry, and a heavy defensive tail turret was substituted, the Sunderland’s wings had to be given a degree of sweep-back, to maintain the overall centre of gravity.
The US Navy was actively involved in the Battle of the Atlantic long before the official entry of the USA into World War Two. Prior to 7th December 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt had done everything in his power to help the Allies, short of declaring war on Germany. Notably, in March 1941 the Lend-Lease Act was passed into law, meaning that Britain could receive arms and other urgent supplies without the need for immediate payment. The US Navy would be tasked with seeing that these American products reached their destinations.
In April FDR extended the Pan-American Security Zone almost as far east as Iceland. American warships would escort convoys as far as the Mid Ocean Meeting Point, and several clashes with German U-Boats took place.
On 10th April destroyer USS Nilblack, rescuing survivors from a torpedoed Dutch ship, the Saleier, detected a sonar echo and dropped three depth charges on the assumed position of a U-Boat, without result.
On 27th May FDR proclaimed the existence of a state of unlimited emergency, in June US forces landed in Iceland, relieving occupying British troops, and between 9th and 12th August FDR and Churchill met in Ship Harbour, Newfoundland and drafted the Atlantic Charter.
On 4th September the destroyer USS Greer carrying mail for the Iceland garrison was attacked by U-652, whose commander took her to be one of the 50 old 4-Stacker destroyers being transferred to the Royal Navy. The Greer dropped two depth charges, U-562 fired two torpedoes, but both vessels escaped unscathed. In his next “Fireside Chat” FDR claimed the U-Boat had deliberately targeted the US destroyer.
On 16th October the USS Kearny was one of four US destroyers called to help defend a convoy under attack by a German Wolf Pack. After dropping depth charges during the night, the next day Kearny was hit amidships by a torpedo from U-568. Temporarily brought to a standstill, the Kearny eventually reached Iceland for repairs, but 11 American sailors were killed and 22 wounded. Ten days later in a radio broadcast on Navy Day, FDR used this provocation to launch an attack on Hitler and the Nazis. He reiterated that American goods would continue to be sent to help the Allies, and he reminded Americans of his order to the Navy to “shoot on sight”.
On 31st October the old destroyer USS Reuben James, escorting Convoy HX156, was torpedoed and sunk by U-552. 115 sailors, including all her officers, were lost and only 44 survived. In memory of those lost, folk singer Woody Guthrie composed “The Sinking of the Reuben James”.
On 6th November the cruiser USS Omaha and destroyer USS Somers seized the German blockade runner MS Odenwald, which was masquerading as an American vessel in an attempt to reach occupied Europe with a cargo of supplies from Japan. Just a month later America was to enter the war officially, in the most brutal manner.
Page 194: The discovery of the wrecks of both Kormoran and Sydney in early 2008 have confirmed the German reports that Kormoran disabled Sydney with a hit from her underwater torpedo tube, and this damage may have led to the loss of her bows through a subsequent magazine explosion. The remaining mystery is what happened to the survivors of the Sydney’s crew of more than 600 men. Ominously, no confirmed trace of Sydney’s crew, no bodies, wreckage, boat or liferaft, have ever come to light, apart from one body thought to be from her crew, found much later in a bullet-riddled liferaft at Christmas Island. It is possible that a Maru which closed the scene would have machine gunned Sydney’s survivors in the water, to cover up evidence of her presence.
Page 195: IJNS Kongo was sunk following hits by submarine torpedoes, and in the manner described. But in real life the submarine was USS Sealion II, commanded by Captain Eli T Reich, which sent Kongo to the bottom on the night of 21st November 1944.
On the basis of intercepted code messages detailing his itinerary, Admiral Yamamoto was deliberately assassinated. The Betty bomber he was using as a transport was ambushed by USAF P-38 fighters at around 08h00 on 18th April 1943 over Bougainville. The wreck site is an hour’s walk from the nearest road via a specially cut path through the jungle. Betty N° T1-323 is a popular Japanese tourist site, closely guarded to avoid theft of the remaining parts. Official Japanese delegations visiting the site have left behind a memorial plaque.
Hans Joachim Marseille was killed in the manner described, but in North Africa instead of on the steppes of Russia (and Leni Riefenstahl was not present).
In real life, Heydrich was mortally wounded in his car in Prague by a bomb fragment, when he boldly – or foolishly – tried to shoot it out with his assailants. It is probable that the latter, highly nervous, held their Sten guns by the magazine, which was guaranteed to make these cheap and cheerful weapons jam.
Page 197: The Vultee Vengeance was a successful dive-bomber which suffered from being a type of combat aircraft which the Allies officially disowned as ineffective, ignoring the real day-to-day service record of the planes and their crews.
The Vengeance was used in action in a dive-bombing rôle only in New Guinea and India. Following the massacre of Blackburn Skua dive bombers in Norway and the serious losses suffered by Stukas in the Battle of Britain, the dive bomber concept had fallen from favour. In actual fact the derided Stukas continued to be a thorn in the side of the Allies, causing serious losses to the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, pounding the defenders of Tobruk, Bir Hakeim and Alamein long after the Ju-87 had been written off as ineffectual, and decisively defeating the British attempt to occupy the Dodecanese islands.
RAF and Indian Vengeance squadrons proved highly effective in cutting Japanese lines of communication and made a significant contribution to the defeat of the Japanese thrusts into India, out of all proportion to the small numbers of aircraft involved.
Australian Vengeances were successful in precision attacks on Japanese targets in New Guinea.
A parallel success story was the performance of the US Navy and Marine Corps Dauntless and Helldiver squadrons in the Pacific.
The heavily-shielded V38 prototype of the Heinkel He 177 Grief bomber was actually built. It may have been an experiment with low emissions to escape radio detection, following the failure of the U-Boat Metox detector with its “Biscay Cross” aerial.
Page 199: Pioneer Sergeant Kunze’s nephew is a dramatic invention, but the Nagasaki photo reconnaissance photo and the post-attack photo taken by a visiting Royal Navy crewman are genuine.